Cain and Abel


      On the surface the story of Cain and Able is an obvious polemic dealing with religious conflict and persecution. Like the Garden parable it was composed by the Yahweh school in ancient Israel, and it can be directly related to a theme that runs through all the books of the prophets - the persecution of those who were righteous in religious terms (symbolized by Abel) by those who were corrupt in their religious practices (symbolized by Cain). The two are contrasted by using metaphors to describe their religious beliefs and practices, and the explanation for Cain's desire to kill Abel is attributed to powerful human emotions such as anger and envious jealousy. Typical anthropomorphism, characteristic of the Yahweh mythologists, appears in the parable, as Yahweh appears to have a little chat with Cain about his bad conduct. Yahweh makes note of the fact that Cain is scowling and outraged that his brother was in favor, and then Cain is told that if he would just behave himself and do what was right, he wouldn't have a problem (which is just stating the obvious, and not particularly profound). Otherwise he will find that sin will begin festering in his soul, and who knows what the final result would be. Cain does not take the advice, instead luring his brother into a murderous ambush. He then denies any knowledge of what had happened to his brother (the famous line, 'am I my brother's keeper?'). More of the usual play on words by this school of mythologists is introduced. Cain is banished to become a wanderer on the earth, and leaves the presence of Yahweh to live east of Eden in the land of Nod (which means 'wandering').

      There are some parallels between this parable and the myth of the Garden of Eden which precedes it. An obvious dualism is present in both stories, with both good and bad religion contrasted using symbols. In the Eden story, we are presented with two trees, one a tree of life and the other a deadly tree, and the couple are enticed to eat its poisoned fruit by being offered the promise of the fulfillment of religious longing (they would become wise like God). In the parable of Cain and Abel, once again religious practice is contrasted using two symbols. One religious ceremony is acceptable, the other is rejected, and the no reason is given why Abel's religious practice was condoned and Cain's religious practice was regarded with contempt. There is a similar theological enigma left hanging in the air in the Eden story (no reason is given why it should be the case that the deadly tree should be left standing in the middle of the garden, instead of hacked down, thus making certain the couple would never eat its poisoned fruit). Given the fact that mythological story tellers addressed real life situations contemporary to their time and their personal experience, one would expect such enigmas to remain, for, after all, if one could explain why 'Cain' preferred 'bad religion' or why such practices exist in the first place, or if one could answer the big questions such as 'why do bad things happen to good people' (like Abel) then perhaps one could construct mythological parables that were found to contain no enigmatic elements.

      The myth makers can be seen to be pragmatic. They did not offer explanations. They concerned themselves with practical matters and did not bother speculating on the philosophical questions they left unanswered. Dealing with the problems the situation presented was more important for society, as they saw it, than engaging in speculation about the larger questions, and they left the enigmatic philosophical questions their stories raised unaddressed.

      The theme of the story of Cain and Abel is a continuation of the issues first raised in the Garden story. After false religion is introduced into Eden, a steady deterioration in the human condition takes place. A strange sexual paranoia accompanied by paranoia entering intotthe human relationship with Yahweh is the first product of the false knowledge the couple 'ate' in the Garden. This is quickly followed by the first crime, and the first victim of violence, the first victim of murder, is the one who was in the right. The one who practiced false religion became the first murderer, and persecution is presented as a result of the anger of the unrighteous one when his bad conduct and unacceptable religious practice is compared unfavorably to his brothers actions.

      It was a common theme of the Yahweh school that one had good religion and one had bad, poisonous religion, true prophets (symbolized by Abel) and false prophets (symbolized by Cain) and it was also taken for granted that if the unrighteous was going to do wrong, it would be the righteous who would be made to pay the price. The overall theme of the parable is universal in its application. In a tyrant state, where the dictator is doing evil, it will the dissident protestor who is murdered, because tyrants do not appreciate being exposed and having their conduct unfavorably compared (which is the genesis of propaganda, the purpose of which is to make evil look good). Of course, as the parable points out, if Cain would just behave himself he wouldn't have that problem, but, in real life, as in the parable, it would seem that he would rather go on doing the evil things he does, and just deal with that problem of his by getting rid of anyone who makes him look bad in comparison. The reader of the parable is invited to substitute whatever interpretation they wish of what is meant by contrasting 'unacceptable sacrifice' with acceptable religious practice. There are obvious correlations with the ever present theme of religious persecution that runs through the books of the prophets of Yahweh.

While the Yahweh school offer no profound philisophical musings to explain the puzzling nature of reality, they do suggest that the reasons for unrighteous violence was best understood in terms of human emotion. For example, we are told, that the prophet Amos was plotted against by Amaziah the priest. They were both religious, but Amaziah's 'sacrifice' was not acceptable, and thus Amos found himself in the line of fire.

"Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent to Jeroboam king of Israel ... And Amaziah said to Amos, 'O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, and eat bread there, and prophesy there; but never again prophesy at Bethel.'" (Amos Chapter 7 verse 10)

      The theme of being persecuted for doing what is right is also found in the works of the Isaiah school. Those whose religious practices were bad were those,

"who by a word make a man out to be an offender, and lay a snare for him who reproves in the gate, and with an empty plea turn aside him who is in the right." (Isaiah chapter 29 verse 21)

The end result is murder.

"The righteous man perishes, and no one lays it to heart; devout men are taken away, while no one understands." (Isaiah chapter 57 verse 1)

      The contrast between true and false religion is one of the dominant themes of the book of Jeremiah, whose radical protests against the Torah and the priests brought him nothing but trouble.

"And when Jeremiah had finished speaking all that YAHWEH had commanded him to speak to all the people, then the priests and the prophets and all the people laid hold of him, saying, 'You shall die!' ... Yet, you, O Yahweh, know all their plotting to slay me." (Jeremiah chapter 26 verse 8, chapter 18 verse 23)

      Jeremiah then goes on to pronounce a bitter curse, but in Genesis chapter 4, as in the Garden story, while punishment and suffering the consequences of bad actions always result from bad conduct, the punishment is mitigated by Yahweh, who sews garments for the first couple in Eden, and who then in a similar parallelism places a 'mark onto the head of Cain' to protect him from blood vengeance, after Cain cries out that his punishment was unbearable.

      The universal theme of Abel, the righteous matyr, being persecuted and murdered by his unrighteous brother, whose practice was corrupt, was obvious enough to be recognized by the authors of the Church Testament. While Paul likes to play off the parables and the theme of death coming through Adam and then, in a reversal of the situation, with Christ, a second Adam, bringing life, in Matthew Chapter 23 verse 35 and the book of Hebrews Chapter 11 verse 4 and chapter 12 verse 24, Christ is compared to Abel, and those who persecuted and attacked Christ are assigned the obvious role of Cain. The comparison is obvious enough, and the message is universal enough, in Christ's time and as it continues to be today, when time and time again we are presented with the story of the righteous one being persecuted and murdered by those who are not doing what is right.



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